Fractel’s story is more than just about a small business overcoming the grinding uphill battle to succeed. It's the story of one man’s vision, for lack of a better term (we’ll get to that …), to create stylish, shade-providing, breathable headwear.
Fractel started with 100 black hats and another 100 white hats in Australia. Four years later, Fractel is now a strong and environmentally conscious brand, selling its performance ultralight headwear globally.
Matt Niutta is one of the nicest and humblest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing. In fact, I had no idea just who I was interviewing until he sheepishly answered my “wait… just who are you?” with an “I guess I’m the founder and CEO.”
Matt was always a runner — long before his retinitis pigmentosa diagnosis, a genetic disease that breaks the cells in the retina down over time at a random rate, eventually rendering the person blind. There is no cure, and Matt was barred from driving a vehicle upon diagnosis. His doctor stated that Matt would be completely blind by the age of 30.
The diagnosis didn’t take away any of Matt’s responsibilities. He still had a job to commute to, errands to complete, and friends to visit. “I’ve always been a keen runner, I’ve always loved running,” he said.
Matt’s commute was now his daily run. A time to meditate and contemplate his future. Out of that necessity, Fractel was born.
Being an environmentally conscious person, considering the effects that wildfires and the general warming of the planet have had on his native Australia, Fractel joined 1% for the Planet early on. As such, Fractel donates 1% of its total revenue to local Australian charities like Land Care and For Wild Places, which strive to protect the local greenspaces runners and backpackers enjoy. During the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian wildfire season, Fractel’s 1% donations went to WIRES Wildlife Rescue, which helped with land and wildlife rehabilitation after the fires’ devastation.
For a small business to pledge any percentage of its revenue, given the thin margins cottage companies work within, is quite a bold statement. Matt could have also used cheaper and newer textile goods, but chooses instead to decrease Fractel’s impact on the environment by purchasing recycled textiles when possible. Today, 100% of the yarn across the Fractel line is made from recycled materials.
That’s a refreshing affirmation in a world where many businesses only care about their bottom line. “If the small businesses aren’t doing it, then who is? We all have to do our part,” Matt grinned.
Fractel’s gear is exceptionally stylish, functional, and durable — featuring everything from more traditional running hats and visors to bucket hats and, Matt's personal favorite, the Legionnaire Hat, with breathable UPF+50 panels providing shade for the neck and ears.
The Legionnaire, one of Fractel’s most popular hats, is perfect for when the sun’s rays are the harshest.
However, were a piece of gear to malfunction on you, Fractel backs its products with the EYE Guarantee. The acronym stands for Exceed Your Expectations. If a Fractel product fails, the company will fix it, replace it, or offer a full refund … for the lifetime of the product.
I had to ask Matt to reiterate and plainly state that last sentence. Such a policy is unheard of these days. Even from large clothing companies, let alone a small business owner. When I asked if someone could abuse that policy, Matt replied, “I’m a bit of an optimist I guess. Everyone is a nice person.”
Now 32 years old, Matt has proven his doctors' prognosis wrong. Not only has he spent the last four years designing chic headwear, he’s also been able to spend quality time with his wife and child abroad, and run sub 3 hour marathons, in addition to ultramarathons. When describing his experience in ultra races, he used the words “brutal” and “awesome” in the same sentence.
Fractel has established itself as a high-quality brand and isn’t going anywhere. Yet, the way Matt sees it, the sun hat company is far from the finish line. “There’s still so much left to innovate and improve upon,” he said.
Fractel out in its natural habitat, Mount Kosciuszko, the tallest mountain in mainland Australia. Thanks for reading!
Rafael ”Horsecake” Mujica is a freelance writer and adventurer based in the Mountain West. You can find him trail running, backpacking, or sampling the best tacos during his free time. Follow all his adventures over on Instragam @horsecake22, or read more of his work over on his website.